Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Clarence Darrow and the Other Shoe

Waaaayyyyyy too tired to be coherent tonight. I will be even more tired tomorrow. So instead of explaining what makes the duck story a story, I will tell you two MORE stories.

They say that Clarence Darrow would stick a toothpick in his cigar, and then, when the opposing lawyer addressed the jury, Darrow would smoke that cigar, and not tap the ashes off. The toothpick held the ashes there -- an inch, an inch and a half, two inches -- and pretty soon the audience was not listening to the opposing lawyer at all. They were watching the ashes on Darrow's cigar, waiting for them to fall. Which, of course, they wouldn't because there was a toothpick holding them in place.

While technically he wasn't telling a story, he did lock in the audience's attention as well as any cliff-hanger. And imho, you could even say it was a kind of story, as each member of the jury "identified" with Darrow, and had a great urge to knock the ashes off the cigar.

Another story....

There was this guy who worked second shift at a laborer's job. He worked really hard and got home late at night, and he was always tired. He lived on the second floor of an apartment building, and every night after midnight he'd climb the stairs, _tromp tromp tromp_, and trudge into his room, clompling away in his big boots, and flop down on the bed and take his boots off and toss them into the corner. First one -- THUMP! -- and then the other -- THUMP!

The downstairs neighbor worked the early shift, and didn't appreciate being awakened every night that way, but he understood the weariness of the neighbor. Still, he just couldn't take it any more so he finally stopped and talked to the guy.

"I know you're tired at the end of the day, but so am I," he complained. "When you go clomping up the stairs and then throw your boots down on the floor like that, it's wakes me up. Will you please stop it?"

So the next night, the workman was just dog tired, and he completely forgot about the neighbor's complaint. He went stomping slowly up the stairs when he came home, and clomped across the room. He flopped down on the bed and could barely keep his eyes open. He took one book off and threw it across the room, and it landed with a loud THUMP!

But then as he reached for the laces on his other boot, he remembered the neighbor. So he took the boot off very quietly and set it neatly in the corner. Then he got ready for bed as usual. As he fell asleep a while later, he heared this plaintive cry -- almost a scream of despair -- coming from the room below:

"For cryin' out loud! Will you drop the other boot already?"


This is, of course, where we get the term "waiting for the other shoe to drop."

That's what tension is, whether it's a boot or some ashes. It holds people in suspense until you release the tension. Jokes in particular, are all about waiting for the other shoe to drop -- the shoe being the punchline.

(Hmmmm, you know, I've got this tune playing in my head -- "Sugar in the morning, sugar in the evening" -- and I realize that maybe I didn't learn all that about tension and storytelling from Alfred Hitchcock. Maybe I learned my lessons about story telling from the Marx Brothers. They're kind of plot-free, but man do they do tension and payoff.... )

In the meantime, the next entry in this series finally gets to the duck: Protagonist, Protagonist, Who's Got The Protagonist?

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